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Iguanas - Diseases

By Rick Axelson, DVM

Medical Conditions, Pet Services

What are some of the common diseases of pet iguanas?

"Common conditions of pet iguanas include metabolic bone disease, infectious stomatitis (mouth rot), parasites, respiratory disease, and hypervitaminosis D."

When well looked after, and given a good diet and environment, iguanas are reasonably hardy animals. Common conditions of pet iguanas include metabolic bone disease, infectious stomatitis (mouth rot), parasites, respiratory disease, and hypervitaminosis D.

What are the signs of these diseases?iguanas-disease-1

Metabolic bone disease (MBD) is a complex disease and is probably the most common medical problem of pet iguanas. It is most often caused by feeding an improper diet that is high in phosphorus and low in calcium or Vitamin D3 (from a nutritional deficiency or from either a lack of UV-B lighting or a lack of exposure to natural light). Common signs include swelling of the lower jaw, softening of the jaw and facial bones (rubber jaw) and/or swelling of the hind limbs. X-rays reveal thin bone tissue (decreased density), widened and thickened bone shafts and possibly fractures that appear to have happened with minimal force or for no apparent reason. Green-stick fractures occur in soft bones that appear to bend or fold and not fully break apart. Blood tests may show a low calcium level and will usually show an improper calcium to phosphorus ratio. As the condition progresses, muscle twitching, seizures, loss of appetite, and loss of energy (lethargy) are seen. MBD is also known as fibrous osteodystrophy or nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism. It is most commonly seen in juvenile iguanas (less than 2 years old).

Infectious Stomatitis (Mouth Rot) is a bacterial infection that manifests as pinpoint hemorrhages on the gums, swollen gums or an excess production of thick mucus (often looking like cottage cheese) in the mouth. Mouth rot can also cause swelling of the jaw just like MBD.

Parasites, especially pinworms, are common in pet iguanas. They often cause no clinical signs and are detected on an annual fecal examination. In some cases, they may cause diarrhea or weight loss. Pinworms are probably commensal organisms (commensalism is an association between two organisms in which one individual benefits from the relationship while the other is neither benefited nor harmed). Mites and ticks are often found on the skin of iguana. They are spread from other iguanas, and are not from around your house. Mites and ticks are often seen moving around, under or between scales around the head and in skin folds.

Respiratory infections or pneumonia can occur in animals that are stressed, improperly fed or kept in poor, cold or dirty conditions. You may see sneezing, nasal or ocular discharge, bubbles in the mouth, unnaturally rapid or shallow breathing, pulling or gasping for breath and lethargy.

Hypervitaminosis D is a condition that develops when owners either over-supplement the iguana's diet with vitamins and minerals or feed it dog or cat food. Clinical signs are vague and include lack of appetite and lethargy.

How can I tell if my iguana is sick?

Signs of disease in iguanas may be specific for a certain disease, such as jaw or hind limb swelling with metabolic bone disease.

"More often, signs of disease are non-specific"

More often, signs of disease are non-specific, such as an iguana with anorexia (lack of appetite), depression and lethargy, which can be seen with many diseases. ANY deviation from normal is cause for concern and your iguana requires immediate evaluation by your veterinarian.

How are iguana diseases treated?

"Your iguana may require hospitalization and intensive care, which can include medications, fluid therapy and force-feeding."

Any of these diseases can be severe enough to cause a loss of appetite and severe lethargy. Have all health issues check by your veterinarian. Your iguana may require hospitalization and intensive care, which can include medications, fluid therapy and force-feeding.

Metabolic bone disease usually requires immediate treatment with injectable or oral calcium, a multi-vitamin or mineral supplement, or calcitonin, a drug that promotes calcium uptake into your iguana's bones. Long term management of MBD requires dietary modification and balancing, and provision of UV-B lighting.

Infectious stomatitis (mouth rot), usually requires injectable antibiotics, as well antibiotic mouth rinses.

Several deworming medications are available either as an oral or injectable drug. The type of parasite identified on the microscopic fecal examination will determine which drug is needed. Mites and ticks can be treated either topically or with oral or injectable medication as dictated by your veterinarian. Environmental cleaning, disinfecting and treatment may be needed as well.

Respiratory infections will be investigated with X-rays, blood tests and cultures. They will likely be treated with oral or injectable antibiotics. If they are severe, the animal will have to be hospitalized for more aggressive therapy and support.

Hypervitaminosis D is a serious problem that requires hospitalization and intensive therapy with fluids, force-feeding, and drugs to help lower the iguana's calcium level. Dietary modification is necessary for long term treatment.

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